Veterans Advocacy Organization Places 24 acres in Conservation Easement with Taos Land Trust
The Taos Land Trust (TLT) and Not Forgotten Outreach (NFO) have permanently protected nearly 24 acres of open space and agricultural land in the center of the Town of Taos. The conservation easement, announced today, will preserve scenic open space and valuable irrigated agricultural land and wildlife habitat while offering recreational and educational benefits of the residents of Taos County in perpetuity.
“For so long, so many have wanted to see this iconic view-shed and now food-shed, protected forever,” said Kristina Ortez, the Executive Director of the Taos Land Trust.
The land, totaling 23.78 acres and located southwest of Cid’s Market across Paseo del Pueblo Norte (NM State 64) is one of the more iconic scenic open spaces in Taos County. The NFO property is a highly popular public view-shed, beautifully disrupting the more urban surrounding landscape with an expansive view of gentle green hills dotted with grazing animals and the mountains of New Mexico. Due to its location directly off the main thoroughfare the NFO property is viewed by thousands of people each day.
“Already NFO has received grants from private foundations and federal funders to start work this Spring on the Veterans Memorial and ADA walking trail; we will commence when the pandemic is over, said Don Peters. “Currently we are creating row crop areas and planting cover crops to help control invasive species weeds in the open fields.” Peters is the Executive Director of Not Forgotten Outreach a Taos-based non-profit organization that works to inspire physical and emotional healing among veterans and their families through recreational, therapeutic and farming activities.
NFO acquired the now protected land in 2018 From Chet Mitchell and the Summers family. Historically the land was used for ranching and is graced with water rights for the entire acreage. Prior to the purchase, NFO began working with the Taos Land Trust to permanently protect the acreage with a conservation easement. The Taos Land Trust, a 30-year old conservation organization has protected thousands of acres of agricultural land, wildlife habitat and open space across northern New Mexico by utilizing conservation easements. A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a qualified organization such as Taos Land Trust to restrict future development of a property. Easements are permanent and remain with the land through any changes in ownership. Terms of a conservation easement are tailored to the conservation values of each specific piece of land and the owner’s vision. In other words, no two conservation easements are alike.
“Conserving the land will serve as homage to past Taos County Veterans who helped keep the agrarian culture alive in our community,” says NFO’s Peters. “Keeping land in Taos dedicated to open space and agriculture, as opposed to developed into more residential/business space, is crucial to preserve the historic way of life in Taos.”
According to Peters, NFO will create a veterans memorial park on the land and open it to Taos residents. The park will include a Veteran’s Memorial Garden, an ADA-accessible walking loop, a pole barn and greenhouse, agricultural production, a petting zoo and a pumpkin patch.
According to Maya Anthony, the Outreach and Stewardship Coordinator at the Taos Land Trust, there are more than 3,000 veterans, many of them Native Americans, in Taos County. “This is a space where the whole community can come together with a special focus on the service these veterans have given all of us,” says Anthony.
For Jake Caldwell, program officer with The LOR Foundation, it was a privilege to work with Don as well as Chet, Marion and John [the landowners] to find a way for Not Forgotten Outreach to purchase this property with assistance from LOR.
“To be able to honor our veterans, grow food, and provide access to the public all at the same time on that property, LOR was thrilled to be able to help fulfill this vision. NFO, by working with partners like Taos Land Trust, continues to find ways for the community to enjoy the space and we look forward to seeing this next phase come to life.”
The NFO open space project has received $25,000 in funding via a partnership program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). USFWS conducted a site survey and proposal for a habitat restoration plan for the new park NFO envisions. The plan includes the creation of a food forest, improved pollinator habitat, a wildlife corridor and more. The goal is to create a diverse, self-sustainable ecosystem on the property, said Peters of Not Forgotten Outreach. The USFWS along with students from the University of New Mexico Architecture and Planning program will provide technical and implementation assistance.
Earlier this year, NFO also received a $23,000 grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeves Foundation. The grant will fund the construction of the ADA-accessible walking trail crossing over the spring-fed waterway that traverses the twenty-four acre parcel.
Don Peters points out that the NFO property will also help Taos County achieve food security. “This land will serve to create a food hub that will improve food production and the overall food system for the Taos Community,” he says “This pandemic has shown the dire necessity for a location in Taos County where our local farmers can bring their produce for washing, packaging, and distribution within our county, in accordance to USDA Food Safety Standards.” The land, he says, will also serve as a year-round training ground for veteran farmers and community at large, thereby increasing the number of food producers in Taos County.
“In a time of real uncertainty, it’s a joyful feeling to know that this land will forever be protected, and that Not Forgotten Outreach and our community’s veterans will steward this land to provide us with fresh food and breathtaking views of this incredible landscape we call home.” says Kristina Ortez.